The Word Alive

Dark Matter

Written by: TL on 23/03/2016 16:35:40

When they emerged towards the end of the 00's, Arizona metalcore ensemble The Word Alive quickly made a name for themselves in the genre, for making music in its more technical end. Arriving this year at their fourth full length "Dark Matter", however, the group proves to have been working on expanding their sound even further, both in term of style and popularity. Similarly to some of the biggest names from metalcore, such as Bring Me The Horizon and Of Mice And Men, The Word Alive move into a more nu-metal/modern hard rock territory with considerable stretches of the material on here being of that kind, although remnants of their metallic ideas also still persist.

Thus suspended between two trends, the twelve tracks on offer come together with varying degrees of quality, the overall verdict being that each good moment comes accompanied by a corresponding average one. Songs like "Trapped" and "Grunge" fit the current 'back in vogue' trend in heavy music perfectly with their churning nu-metal/heavy-grunge riffs, yet the former in particular quickly abandons the focus on its solid riff section, in favour of somewhat excessive chorus repetition. Arriving already as the album's second track, however, it does serve as a good indicator of the balance of vocals on here, for while "Dark Matter" does feature screaming, it is rarely outside of a superfluous backing role while frontman Telle Smith primarily sings in a manic clean voice. He definitely has room for improvement in the lower, flatter sections, yet he manages to sound fairly strong in the higher, more half-screamed parts.

The best tracks on offer are "Sellout" and "Made This Way". The former possesses a fast-paced hardcore urgency, more healthy doses of screaming, efficient dynamics throughout the arrangement and well, it's catchy and it figures as the kind of standout track you'll be sneaking onto playlists while having drinks with your mates - Then when they ask what it is you can go "this is the new The Word Alive, actually. Pretty good, isn't it?" Meanwhile "Made This Way" is perhaps the best amalgamation of everything the band has intended to work with on this record. The progression and build-up to the chorus are mellow yet promising, and the leaping "I wear these scars" refrain delivers, with Smith showing desperation in the vocal performance while the band's electronics haunt the background. Then there's a drop into djenty verse riffage while the second chorus is followed by neo-classical soloing, both of which are injections of tasteful, diverse instrumentation that only compliment the already tight and catchy song.

More of that could've done well, on songs such as "Face To Face" and "Insane". The former, in particular, sounds like a case of Bring Me The Horizon's recent Linkin Park idolatry, showcasing a decent mellow/pained vocal dynamic, but otherwise has little to offer outside of more chorus repetition. Meanwhile "Insane" seems intended to be the album's anthemic ballad, which is in fact quite catchy and sympathetic at a glance, yet while it is by no means as toe cringing as the former album's "Light House", the combination of its feel and its lyrics makes it feel inescapably like very typical "vaguely uplifting metalcore sauce". So while The Word Alive may have good intentions behind such tracks, they would do well to think about how to frame those in even less adolescent sounding ways moving forwards. For now, it's the kind of thing where Smith's chorus is simultaneously catchy yet equally grating on the ear.

As a whole, the experience of the album is one lifted by how often guitarists and programmers Tony Pizzuti and Zack Hansen manage to weave together both guitars and electronics in the cocktail of more technical metalcore and more grimy, simple-yet-forceful heavy rock. This regrettably accompanied by frequent realisations of how the songwriting feels affected by commercial concerns, where somewhat generic power-chorded chorus riffage breaks the flow of the action, making sure the Warped Tour kids won't have to wait too long for their refrain. So you might have your reservations, yet "Dark Matter" is actually a record that lends itself well, even to repeat listens. You just sit back at the same time and wonder if The Word Alive couldn't realise an even more impactful album if they learned to write better lyrics, and if they could seem more consistent in letting creativity overrule concerns about a young audience.


Download: Sellout, Made This Way, Grunge, Dark Matter
For The Fans Of: Bring Me The Horizon, Of Mice And Men, From First To Last, Linkin Park

Release date 18.03.2016
Fearless Records

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